I’ve been sampling audible.com’s Agatha Christie collection for a few months and this week thought I’d listen to something which offers a new (to me) narrator in a new (to Christie) setting.
In a departure from her usual settings Agatha Christie set Death Comes as the End in Egypt around the year 2000BC. It tells the story of a wealthy family headed by mortuary priest Imhotep whose household consists of 3 sons, a daughter recently widowed and various employees and faithful retainers. Having been widowed himself for many years Imhotep returns to the family home from a trip away with a concubine, Nofret. This act seems to trigger an upset in the delicate balance of power and relationships within the household and it’s not long before the body count starts to mount rather alarmingly.
Given that Christie’s second husband was an archaeologist it’s not surprising that she chose this subject to experiment with something new for her writing and I’m sure her access to experts in the field added to the historical accuracy of the setting and lifestyle depictions contained in the novel. And while I did enjoy these details I found the rest of the novel rather flat and uninteresting.
On reflection I think the main reason for this is that the book has no real protagonist and therefore it lacks focus. Ostensibly Imhotep’s daughter Renisenb is, I think, supposed to be the focus of events but she is not a terribly active participant in events and neither is anyone else. The plot really consists of a lot of dialogue in which the household members guess who’s doing all the murdering and pray to the odd god or three. I thought the culprit and their motive fairly easy to pick from the outset and as more and more family members are knocked off it seems blindingly obvious by the end (by virtue of the ‘last man standing’ theory if nothing else).
The thing that I have enjoyed most about my recent re-discovering of Christie’s novels is that the very best of them are clever classic’ whodunnits that stand the test of time and have at least one or two engaging characters who advance the plot in interesting ways. I’m afraid that, for me anyway, Death Comes as the End had neither of these key elements as in addition to the fairly pedestrian plot the characters were fairly one-dimensional and not up to her usual standards. And while I’m sure the historical details included here are accurate even they do not go far enough to allow total immersion in the period (I’d recommend the Egyptian series of Paul Doherty or Wilbur Smith if you want to lose yourself in ancient Egypt).
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My rating 2.5/5
Narrator Emilia Fox; Publisher Harper Collins [this edition 2006, original edition 1945]; ISBN N/A; Length 7 hours 11 minutes
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